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Longtime readers, story subjects, cohorts reflect on Sam Cook's career

Duluth News Tribune outdoors writer Sam Cook pauses on a 20-below-zero morning on Canada's Baffin Island while covering a dogsled expedition led by Ely's Will Steger in 2007.

Jim Brandenburg, Minnesota-based photographer for National Geographic, said "it goes without saying (Sam) will be greatly missed, not only by all the readers in and around Minnesota but especially at the News Tribune.

"For all my years with my various adventures and projects, I have been fortunate to have worked with and been the subject in stories with writers and journalists in many publications. Sam is at the top of the list of all I have worked with. I have always been impressed with his interviews and how he managed to get to a deeper and more perceptive angle in his writing regarding me and other subjects that I was familiar with. From my backyard in the north woods to accompanying him all the way to the North Pole, his words portrayed accurate, thoughtful and penetrating pieces. Thank you, Sam, you will be greatly missed."

Laura Erickson, Duluth-based birding expert and author, said Sam "has always seemed like the ideal big brother to me. For a story we did about how hunters and non-hunters perceive each other, I went along when he was grouse hunting. It was loads of fun. I started out rooting for the grouse, but while tagging along, seeing how much work is involved in tracking a grouse (almost as much as trying to get a good photo!), I could feel a shift in my loyalty, even if I was pretty relieved that the grouse got away. Sam appreciated my open-mindedness about hunting as much as I appreciated his open-mindedness about birding.

"It's been fun talking to him over the years when one of us has a question in the other's area of expertise. My kids are about the same age as his, and so I've valued his non-outdoors columns, too, with so many warm stories reflecting our shared values. I'm sad he's retiring, but expect that during the next chapter in his life, he'll find ways to share his interesting adventures in other ways."

Mark "Sparky" Stensaas, local naturalist, writer and photographer and outdoor recreation enthusiast, said Cook was able to keep a solid footing in many outdoor camps.

"I've always said to folks that Sam is the perfect outdoor writer for the greater Duluth area. He is able to bridge the gap between the rod-and-gun set and the bike and binoculars crowd. And Northeastern Minnesota certainly has a bunch of both. His work ethic is amazing, too. I once went on a winter camping snowshoe/dog sled trip with Sam and some other folks. He was the oldest guy on the trip but most definitely the hardest worker."

Mike Furtman, Duluth outdoor writer, photographer and conservationist, said Cook has a remarkable ability to take people into the outdoors using words.

"Sam has the knack of being the 'everyman' in those stories where he takes us on his own trips. We feel his joy at the call of a loon, the thrill of following a good dog on a hunt, and the pain of the loss of friends, dogs or places. On those stories where he is an observer telling someone else's tale, he stays out of the way to let the subject describe their outdoor experience. In the end, whether he is writing about his own adventures or those of others, he connects us to the outdoors and the emotions common to the experience."

Paul Schurke, Ely dog sled outfitter and businessman and polar adventurer who Cook joined at the North Pole in 1986, said Sam "likes to say he's just a kid from Kansas who discovered the North in '64. But the beauty of it is that he discovered it for all of us by bringing our beloved canoe country to life on paper for nearly 40 years.

Cook's writing "pops right off the page through his lyrical wordsmithing. And those of us who've shared trail time with Sam get a special treat: Campfire tales told with his prairie twang, a wry smile, his 'aw shucks' self-deprecating humor and plenty of practical jokes. Plus he's a great sport about taking ribbing in return."

Dave Zentner, Duluth hunter, longtime conservation activist and past national president of the Izaak Walton League of America, said Cook's "respect, his professionalism, his writing skills ... is a great combination.

"Sam Cook connects with us in large part because the people he contacts recognize that he is really interested (in) their story. He listens to learn, then to share with his readers the many viewpoints of those readers. His subjects sense that he is respectful ... that he is up to more than turning in a story. He is genuinely seen as interested in people, their life stories."

Kipp Duncan, Duluth native and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer, said Cook had a way of making people feel at ease when he interviewed them. "He's such an easy guy to sit down and visit with." And Cook always got the story right, Duncan said.

"Obviously Sam is a local legend when it comes to outdoor writing. ... Sam, did an article on my father (federal game warden Dave Duncan) back in 1994. And a guy I know, a fisheries biologist, who had just moved here from Chicago in 1994, said he opened the News Tribune the first Sunday he was in town and found that two-page article on a game warden. He thought it was so refreshing that he cut it out and saved it. He said it was so good he knew immediately that he had moved to the right town. ... He liked it so much he saved it for years until he gave it to me."

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